Museum of Photographic Arts

San Diego, CA


photo: John Hazeltine


The Model Wife


Provocative photographs by well-known artists of the past century document the photographer' s use of wife as model in The Model Wife, a striking and original exhibition organized by Arthur Ollman, Director of the Museum of Photographic Arts. The exhibition, based on Ollman's book The Model Wife (Bulfinch Press, 1999), will be on view through January 21, 2001.

"It's a simple idea," said Ollman. "There are nine photographers and they all photographed their wives." Photographers Baron Adolph de Meyer, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston, Harry Callahan, Emmet Gowin, Lee Friedlander, Masahisa Fukase, Seiichi Furuya and Nicholas Nixon, reveal multifaceted relationship between husband and wife when the couple is also artist and muse. The nature of their relationships offers an ideal opportunity to reevaluate their work in light of contemporary cultural understanding. Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston, Harry Callahan, Emmet Gowin, Lee Friedlander and Nicholas Nixon are American photographers represented in the exhibition.

"Collaborations like these involve permission, responsibility, idealizing and a great deal of care," said Ollman. "They require intense effort by the artist to apprehend and hold something that is exceptionally important in their relationships."

In The Model Wife, Ollman explores the imagery and photographic history of artists who portrayed their wives during a period of many years, revealing the nuances of marriage and the powerful influences that such a partnership can have on artistic production. In each case, the photographer-spouse collaboration resulted in the creation of some of the artists' most lasting and significant work. The exhibition will include many rarely seen and unpublished images along with classic, well-known images.

A full century of great photographers' portraits of their spouses trace the changing image during period of intense reconsideration of the marriage institution. The following artist biographies are excerpted from The Model Wife book:

Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946)

Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O'Keeffe are the most famous couple represented, who created some of the most passionate photographs in history, dating from 1917 for nearly twenty years. Stieglitz was the great eminence and impresario, whose pronouncements, as much as his galleries, publications and photographs, were keystones of early Modernism in America. His photographs of O'Keeffe remain among the greatest icons of photography and represent much of his finest work. This influential series was viewed by Stieglitz' colleagues, including Edward Weston, whose portraits of his own wife resonate with a similar passion.

Edward Weston (1888-1958)

Edward Weston focused on Charis from 1934 to 1945, producing his intimate yet formal nudes and portraits. Charis was an intellectually curious free spirit whom he photographed both as a nude figure, like many of his precious models, and as a real character, with a personality and a context in his life. Many of his finest photographs were of Charis, including his important nudes on the dunes at Oceana, CA., in 1936.

Harry Callahan (1912-1999)

From 1945 to 1961, Harry Callahan used as models his wife and daughter, Eleanor and Barbara, in his innovative, Modernist style. Callahan was a constant experimenter and needed a continuing stimulant and model at the ready. With his family as eager participants, the spirit of play and the wide menu of formal explorations evidenced during those years demonstrate how productive their partnership was.

Emmet Gowin (b. 1941)

In 1961, Callahan's student Emmet Gowin, made his first photographs of his wife, Edith. These images were deeply influenced by Harry Callahan and by Gowin's study of Alfred Stieglitz. Dedicated to finding his subject matter in his own life, Gowin made loving and poetic observations about his family and the essentiality of Edith to him. They have not stopped making these photographs.

Lee Friedlander (b. 1934)

In 1959, Lee Friedlander photographed Maria Friedlander for the first time. These casual yet insightful portraits appear, initially, to fit seamlessly into the artist's oeuvre. Like all the rest of his work, they are moments snatched from the stream of daily life. It is the abundant respect, tenderness and affection that separate them from many of his more anonymous images. Friedlander, who is generally reticent on personal matters, portrays what he may be unable to state verbally: that he is dependent on Maria for the stability that he requires in his life and in order to do his work.

Nicholas Nixon (b. 1947)

In 1970 Nicholas Nixon began to make portraits of Bebe Brown, whom he married the next year. He continues photographing her at present. This bright, proudly interdependent couple has continually attempted to represent their collaborative life in photographs. Their children have been beautifully integrated into the photographs, as has the very passage of time. Their willingness to portray Bebe's aging as explicitly as possible is a refreshment, as well as a testament to their pleasure at all parts of a well-examined life. This portfolio is now nearly thirty years old and continues to grow.


National Tour

The Model Wife will travel to prestigious museums in the United States. The exhibition will be on view at the Chicago Art Institute Feb. 10 - May 6, 2001 and The Cleveland Museum of Art May 27 - August. 5, 2001.


The Model Wife Book

Hailed as "a beautifully nuanced book on every level: visual, verbal and imaginative" by Peggy Moorman,, and "extremely moving," Talk Magazine, The Model Wife is an exquisitely crafted book consisting of an extensive introduction, including excerpts from interviews with several of the wives. There are also individual essays and portfolios on each artist. As the basis of the exhibition, the book offers comparisons between the couples and between their photographs, enriching this fascinating discussion.

The Model Wife is available in hard cover at the Museum of Photographic Arts (MoPA) and all bookstores nationwide.


Biography of Arthur Ollman

Arthur Ollman, photographer, director and curator of the Museum of Photographic Arts, was born in 1947 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He earned a B.A. in art history from the University of Wisconsin in 1969 and an MFA from Lone Mountain College, San Francisco in 1977. He also studied at Columbia College, Chicago, 1970; Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester, 1972; and the San Francisco Art Institute, 1974. As an artist, his work is in more than thirty museums world-wide. (left: Arthur Ollman, photographer, director and curator of the Museum of Photographic Arts, Photo courtesy of the Museum of Photographic Arts)

Mr. Ollman has been the director of the Museum of Photographic Arts (MoPA) in San Diego, California since it opened in 1983. After overseeing construction of the new museum, he has been responsible for establishing the curatorial and artistic vision of the institution. He has curated more than 70 exhibitions for MoPA including a three-part exhibition series on the subject of immigration to America: Points of Entry and the critically acclaimed The Model Wife, which examines the institution of marriage through the relationships of nine artists who photographed their wives over many years.

Mr. Ollman has written numerous books including Points of Entry and The Model Wife, which are available for purchase in MoPA's Museum Store.


Read related articles regarding 20th Century American Photography in this magazine.

Read more about the Museum of Photographic Arts in Resource Library Magazine

Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 4/27/11

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